After 200 episodes, “Supernatural,” which bowed in 2005, has been to hell and back (several times), with a few sojourns to heaven, purgatory, Oz, the past, the post-apocalyptic future and even our world along the way. The show weathered the conversion from The WB to The CW, survived the 2007-08 writers’ strike, and transitioned through several showrunners — and there’s no end in sight. Here, the stars and creative team chart the unlikely journey of the “little show that could.”

Eric Kripke (Creator): For me, the core notion behind “Supernatural” was to make a series about urban legends. I think they’re this incredibly rich mythology about the United States, and no one had really tapped into that, so when I started as a writer, one of the first ideas I ever pitched was an urban legend show.

A couple years later I tried to pitch, basically, a “Scooby Doo” rip off of a bunch of kids travelling in a van dealing with these urban legends. It was an idea that I never let go of and kept throwing there every couple years. Finally I had a deal with Warner Bros. and that incarnation was a reporter. Frankly, it was a rip off of “Nightstalker,” but I really fleshed it out and it had mythology.

I took it to Susan Rovner and Len Goldstein at the studio and they said, “We love the idea of doing a horror show,” which no one was really doing on TV at that time, “but we’re not into the reporter, that feels really tired. So no thanks and let’s get another angle.”

So in this moment, when they were basically passing on my idea, as you often do in these kinds of rooms, you start tap dancing. And I said, “forget the reporter, we should do this show as ‘Route 66,’ two cool guys in a classic car cruising the country, chasing down these urban legends,” and literally right on the spot I said “and they’re brothers,” because it popped in my head. “And they’re dealing with their family stuff and they’re fighting evil.” You just start making it up as you go. They were like, “Brothers, wow, that’s a relationship we haven’t seen on TV before.” And from there, “Supernatural” was born… out of a piece of improvisation.

Peter Roth (President, Warner Bros. Television): Eric [had] been with us since about 2002. Sometime in 2004, he came to us with this idea… this extraordinary road show about these two brothers, in which they would be living all of the great urban and rural myths that [we’re all] exposed to as kids. It was a very commercial idea, emotionally driven, which was what I was most concerned about: who are the characters? Why do I relate to them? Why are they worth my while to watch? And once we cast Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, along with Eric’s great idea, along with the script, along with David Nutter, our director on the pilot, the combination of those factors is what made me so excited and I frankly knew, from the moment I saw this pilot, that it was a winner. There wasn’t a person who I work with who didn’t feel the same way. It was a real strong story of young adult siblings that resonated perfectly with The WB audience.

“Supernatural” star Jensen Ackles (center, with Jared Padalecki, right), has stepped behind the camera several times as director during the series.

Kripke: When we were casting, you see a lot of people. We hadn’t found our Sam and Dean. David Nutter suggested Jensen because we knew him from “Smallville.” We met with him to play Sam, and we fell in love with [him]. And then Jared came in, and he was a really great Sam too. Looking back, we were such idiots to not see it… We had two great Sams and no Dean and you think it would be obvious to put one into the other role, but it was not obvious. So we [went] to Peter Roth and we said, “We’re not sure what to do,” and Peter was like, “why don’t you make Jensen Dean?” We all looked at each other like, “we’re idiots, of course.” It’s so difficult to find one actor who is charismatic enough to be a breakout character and to support a show. So to find two of them, where there’s only two leads… I didn’t realize what a miracle it was at the time. It’s a miracle.

Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester): They bring us in to the WB lot, and I’m sitting there, and in walks this really pretty dude who I had never seen before. We met and we’re waiting around, and usually in a test situation there are three or four people at least for each character and they’ll do a chemistry read. And so he and I are sitting there waiting for [other] actors to arrive [when] we’re pulled into the room, and it’s 30 big-shots at what was then The WB network and Warner Bros. studio television portion, and it’s daunting. We’re young actors… we’ve got to make our rent payments… We read one of the scenes from the pilot; it takes place at the bottom of a stairwell and Sam says, “when I told Dad there was something in my closet, he gave me a .45.” This great scene between two brothers where we see a lot of love but a lot of pent up anger, and a lot of understanding at its heart. It was a pretty intense scene.

Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester): It was just immediate chemistry. There was an ease to it. There was a familiarity to it. Once we got into it with each other, it just fell in place and it came… not easy, but definitely a little easier than my experiences in the past. I think the importance of that bond and that relationship was verbalized by Kripke when he sat us down and said, “this begins and ends with you,” and not only how we relate to each other on screen, but also off screen. There was an importance stamped into [that bond] very early on.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan only had a small part in the pilot, but it became a pivotal role…

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (John Winchester): There wasn’t a lot for me to do. I remember thinking “well, this’ll be a job that I’ll work a couple of days and go on to the next thing, because there’s no way I’m gonna come back and be the father of Jared and Jensen,” who were not infants at the time. It was just a flashback sequence, not a lot to it: “you get a little freaked out that your wife is killed.” I remember there was one shot in particular, and I can’t believe I remember this, but it was me sitting on the iconic “Supernatural” car, which started off being John’s, and the camera pushes in and you see the determination in John’s face, that he’s going to exact his revenge on whatever this supernatural entity was, and I remember doing that and thinking “well, there we go… I’ll never see these people again.” Whenever you do a pilot, if the people are cool — and they were, I really liked Jensen and Jared on the first meet — you just hope these guys get the opportunity to do another episode, or get a season pickup.

Prior to “Supernatural,” Kripke’s only showrunning experience was on The WB’s shortlived “Tarzan,” so Bob Singer, a veteran producer and director whose credits included “V,” “Midnight Caller” and “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” was approached after the pilot to help steer the ship.

Bob Singer (executive producer): I got sent the pilot and the idea was maybe I would come on the show if Eric and I saw eye to eye. I thought Jared and Jensen had an immediate chemistry that is kind of rare in television. I thought the script was really smart; it didn’t try to accomplish too much; it really set the boys up in their relationship and it was just a good old-fashioned ghost story. I worked for Dan Curtis for a number of years and he was kind of the King of Horror at the time, so I felt that I was in my wheelhouse and that I could be helpful.

Eric is a generous guy. We had a terrific working relationship. They had hired a director for the fourth episode and he bailed out for some reason at the last minute, so I had to go up and direct that episode and that was probably one of the first ones where we really brought humor to the floor and I thought that Eric appreciated what I did directing that episode. I think that helped solidify our relationship. We had a system; we would talk every morning for about 15 or 20 minutes about what we would do during the day and whatever problems we would have, and sort those out. And then we would do a postmortem every night. It was really a wonderful partnership, and Eric is really bright and it was great to work with him. I had been doing it by myself for a quite a while, so actually having a partner was a great thing for me.

Director Kim Manners was another key member of the “Supernatural” family, establishing and helping to maintain the visual tone of the show while serving as an executive producer and director from season one until he passed away in 2009.

Singer: I was in Vancouver when Kim was directing his first episode. I was not thrilled with the way the show had been looking and I was up there prepping, and I saw Kim setting up a shot, and I looked in the monitor and said “that’s the way the show is supposed to be shot.” So when Kim came on board full-time, that was just a blessing to us, he set a real template for what the show should look like, he directed our toughest episodes – he always complained about that – but he always did brilliantly and he was a great guy. He is really, sorely missed.

Padalecki: Season one was a whirlwind… I was flying back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver and getting used to a new town and a workload that I wouldn’t wish on my enemy, but it was wonderful… I didn’t really know what was going on, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was good or what was bad. I never really concerned myself with ratings. I remember asking Bob Singer, “Are we going to get picked up? Do I need to rent an apartment?” and Bob’s the wise sage of the group, and he was like, “Just take a breath, there’s nothing to figure out yet. Just focus on your work and make Sam Winchester real and let all those chips fall where they may.”

It was definitely a huge learning process, not only for myself, learning the character of Sam Winchester, but I think we didn’t have a grasp on what we were doing. The original tag line was monster of the week, like “X-files” meets “The Twilight Zone.” And we had these very famous urban legends about Bloody Mary or the Hookman, but ultimately you’re going to run out of those.

Singer: Eric talked about the five-season plan… I don’t know if he secretly had that in mind and was just not sharing it, but initially Eric wanted campfire stories. And the mythology really started to evolve in the first year. We didn’t exactly know where we wanted to go, and I don’t even think Eric knew exactly where he wanted to go

Kripke: If I’ve said in the past that I had this five year plan from the beginning, I was lying. I always knew what that particular season was going to be; “by midseason I want to be here, by the end of the season I want to be there.” And then I always had a rough sketch what the season after that would be. I will say I knew that the show was going to come down to evil Sam versus good Dean and the fate of the world was going to hang in the balance — that was baked into the pilot. I wanted to build it to something that felt conclusive because I didn’t want these mysteries and mythologies to stretch on forever.

Sera Gamble (writer, executive producer): We were realizing the thing that we most enjoyed when we were watching cuts of the show was the chemistry between the brothers, and that the mythology we were constructing for the season was really a family story about two young men and their father, and this family legacy that they’re trying to deal with. That was the heart of the show, and if we paid attention to how each monster story resonated with the relationship between the brothers, then the show was always really interesting.

Padalecki: It was right around the episode “Faith” where the writers realized this show isn’t just about what kind of monsters we can kill but what the brothers can go through together. And I think luckily we stuck with that theme on through the end [of season one], where we reintroduced our father into the storyline. And we get some sense of what the father is willing to do for the sons and what the sons are willing to do for each other. And so it became this story about sacrifice and loyalty and family and friendship [within] this medium of the supernatural and ghosts and ghouls.

Gamble: It’s not like we sat down to write “Faith” and we said, “we’re going to write the game changer.” We just wanted to find a really human, emotional way into a story about faith healing. We had these different elements of the reapers that we wanted to bring into the show and the phenomena of faith healers in the history of America, and it ended up being a story that was really personal and kind of philosophical… From that point forward, everyone was hungry to do more stories that had an aspect of the personal and the metaphysical.

John Winchester returned for a longer run of episodes towards the end of season one, at which point, the series had found its footing.

Morgan: The first couple episodes I did, I always thought, “well, that’ll be it.” It was a great experience, a great crew up there, and I was just happy for a job… [By the end of the season] we got to find out the history of these guys and the dynamic that played out between father and sons… I was shooting “Grey’s Anatomy” simultaneously, so my career had just taken off after 500 years of doing nothing. So I remember that I was really tired and playing these two characters simultaneously and “Supernatural” was really cool… they shifted my schedule so I would shoot during the week with “Grey’s,” fly to Vancouver and shoot “Supernatural” on the weekend, and I remember being pretty scattered, and Jared and Jensen and [director] Kim Manners really pulled me through that and helped me, which I’m forever grateful for, because I think those were some really great episodes that we got to do, fleshing out the dynamic between John and these kids. At that point it really became [shorthand] after we’d done a couple episodes; I felt like it was a really great father-son dynamic and we had come a long way – we were really fighting as one unit at that point.

The season one finale introduced a character who would go on to be integral to the Winchesters’ journey: Bobby Singer, named after executive producer Bob Singer (much to his chagrin) and played by Jim Beaver.

Singer: I’ve worked with Jim often in the past and I remember I was in Vancouver directing and the Bobby Singer part came up, before Eric told me he was actually going to name him after me — and had I known he was going to last that long, I certainly would’ve objected a little more strenuously [to the name]. But I remember saying to Eric, “well, here’s the guy you want for this part — go get Jim Beaver.” Jim makes everything so real; there’s never a false moment with Jim. He really shined in the first episode he was in, and he became so important to the show.

Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer): No one told me anything about Bobby’s trajectory early on, because Bobby didn’t have one, as far as I know. I was hired for one episode, “Devil’s Trap,” and no one ever said anything to me about another appearance. Of course, the crew made several references to the fact that Bobby hadn’t died, so it was very possible I might come back, but nothing official was ever said to me. Whether it was something about my work the producers liked or fan response or what that made them think about having me back, I have no idea.

The episode also gave the Winchesters their first glimpse of the Yellow-Eyed Demon, the monster that killed their mother, Mary (Samantha Smith), when he possessed their father.

Morgan: That was a lot of fun – I got to create the Yellow-Eyed Demon. I remember for years after that, Jensen would call me because they would have to send tapes of that performance to all the other actors that took over the Yellow-Eyed Demon role, and I remember thinking that I wanted to do a Jack Nicholson-esque crazy motherf***** when I did that guy. I talked about it with Kim Manners and he was like, “yeah, man, that’s what we wanna do.” I remember that scene very well, because I couldn’t see anything with the yellow contacts in, and they put sandbags on the ground and I was going from Jared to Jensen to Jared to Jensen. I would run into sandbags and realize “they must be in front of me now, I should talk.” I couldn’t see a foot in front of me, so that was cool. I did see that and thought it turned out pretty neat. It’s always fun to play the bad guys.

As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the finale ended with a brutal cliffhanger, in which all three Winchesters were left on the brink of death after a semi-truck T-boned their beloved ’67 Chevy Impala.

Singer: Eric’s phrase was “smoke them if you got them,” where we would just try to tell the best stories we could and be as provocative as we could. We felt that this had a long-term mythology, so ending with kind of a very dramatic cliffhanger just seemed the right thing for us and that all seemed to work out for us.

Padalecki: At the end of season one, to scare us all even a bit further, the WB merged with another network, UPN, [to form] The CW. So if we were nervous about what was going to happen to us to begin with, then when we found out there was going to be a new captain of the network ship so to speak, it certainly didn’t settle our stomachs.

A new season meant new notes from the network, which prompted the introduction of a roadhouse populated with other hunters…

Kripke: People don’t remember that we were within an inch of cancellation the first three or four years we were on the air. We always had to fight to stay on and in season two, that was very true. We moved over, it was the new CW and we were a bubble show. A big note that the network had at the time was “we should really give the boys a home and some recurring characters, and bringing in some women would be good.” And while I certainly agree that the show could use some females, the roadhouse always felt weird to me because it was a road show. And I never really agreed with the note but I had to go along with it to stay on the air. When you’re telling a story about these two characters who don’t have any roots and are lost in America, it felt weird to give them a home. I think we did the best version of the roadhouse we possibly could. I thought the actresses were incredible, I really loved them, but I never loved the storyline because I thought it felt a little jammed in. And so by the end of the second season, I burnt the mother down.

Despite that, the writers had a firm grasp on who Sam and Dean were as characters, which gave season two a clear sense of momentum.

Padalecki: Season two is the season where we realize dying doesn’t mean you’re dead, beginning with Dean who died — so to speak — in the first episode, and culminating with Sam who died in the last episode. Unlike season one where we were figuring out what this show was about, who these characters were, season two we hit the ground running.

Ackles: The interesting thing that Kripke did with the first several seasons is he flipped character motivations from season to season. With the first season you had Dean as the motivating factor: he was really pushed by his father, dragging Sam along against his will. Then as Dad dies, the whole thing is flipped upside down. Now Dean is like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Dad was his motivating factor in life and [after] he lost him, it was a devastating blow and Dean just wanted to hang it up. And Sam was the one who was like, “no, we’re going to go find answers to this. I have to figure out how I play into this,” and Dean went along with him because he couldn’t let his little brother go it alone.

Padalecki: We knew from the pilot that something was different about Sammy. We knew that there was a character who ultimately did something to Sam in his crib. He’s got these powers that make him effectively what he and his family have been hunting all their lives.

Season two ended with Sam being killed and Dean selling his soul to resurrect his brother, leaving him with only a year to live.

Gamble: It was really fun to kill Sam. You don’t very often get to kill the lead character. One of the really fun things about “Supernatural” is that you get to kill whoever you want, and it’s part of the evil genius of Eric Kripke. From pretty early on, he understood the power of doing the unexpected thing to the character the audience thinks is safe. He fought hard, and he was always someone who, in the room, would push us to not get precious with a character, to not try to save someone because we think they’re amazing. If we love them, we’ll bring them back in some other form. Because we had a plan to bring Sam back, we got to write the super-emotional scene with his brother that we knew that Jensen would knock out of the park, and both of them knocked it out of the park.

As opposed to the season one finale, season two wrapped up fairly conclusively, with Dean killing the Yellow-Eyed Demon thanks to a ghostly assist from his father. This allowed Morgan to return, briefly, to give John some closure.

Morgan: We had talked for the course of probably a couple months about John making another appearance, and more than anything I wanted to do it for — I call ‘em my boys – I wanted to do it for the boys. I think I was in the middle of doing a movie or something at the time, and I flew in just to do a day. Again, it was one of those things that you do and it’s like a, “wink, wink, we’ll see you again next year!” type of thing, and John will always have the ability to make appearances, but I still haven’t. I hope that at some point he does — I’ve always said that I’d like to go back and make an appearance… so maybe I will.

Season three was shortened because of the writers’ strike, which created both storytelling challenges and opportunities. In another attempt to expand “Supernatural’s” male-centric world, the writers introduced two new female characters: thief and supernatural artefact dealer Bela (Lauren Cohan) and a supposedly reformed demon called Ruby (Katie Cassidy), both of whom were met with some resistance from the fanbase.

Lauren Cohan (Bela Talbot): I think I remember auditioning for “Heroes” that week… It was my first pilot season in LA, I don’t think I could have anticipated how overwhelming that was. For the final screen test, I was reading with Jensen, and I thought (about that scene); just have the conversation, that’s all you have to do. I had such a great time on the show. It was definitely a bit of a new kid at school vibe. I felt nervous joining a show that was established like that (and basically causing trouble for two beloved characters) but those two were absolutely amazing. Katie Cassidy and I bonded. We had each auditioned for the roles of Ruby and Bela and ended up with our respective ones. We didn’t end up working together much during that season, but we had a good time at the upfronts promoting characters we didn’t know much about yet and were additionally sworn to secrecy over. Little did I know that would become a theme for my TV career…

Singer: I think Bela didn’t quite turn out as good of a story driver as we might have wanted, although we loved Lauren — we thought she was terrific in the part. But we started pinning ourselves a little bit in the corner [with her as] Dean’s nemesis, like, “how often can she best Dean without assassinating our lead character?” If she would’ve been on three times a year, I think that character could’ve really served a purpose going forward. Ruby served a better purpose and that pushed the mythology into a different area. But we were a little flummoxed because you say, “what do we do? We can’t have two women just sitting in the back of the car with these guys.”

Gamble: I think Ruby in the long term was a more successful character than Bela, but we all really enjoyed creating Bela in the room, especially Ben Edlund, who wrote some really cool stuff for her. Not every peg will fit in every hole in the show. You don’t get Castiel one hundred percent of the time. If you follow any show for long enough, you’ll notice some places where they corrected the course, and we learned a lot from writing those two characters. I really like a lot of the stuff that we did with Ruby. It’s really cool to have a character that’s played by more than one actor, and it’s such an interesting characterization of a demon.

Cohan: I remember the writers’ strike came then, and there was all kinds of uncertainty for television in general. I don’t know if I ever knew how much more might have happened with Bela if we hadn’t been through the strike…or if that was her story. We may never know. I do remember there being this increasing love for the character once she was gone. The reception I would have from fans at conventions then, and more now. I like to hate the bad guy, but it doesn’t mean I want them to leave…There are a lot of loyal Bela fans I meet at conventions now, I really like that. It was a special time for me. “Supernatural” was my big break.

Kripke: I think the truncated season actually ended up helping the mythology. We were a little aimless as we had just lost the Yellow-Eyed Demon, the great big bad, and we hadn’t introduced a new big bad yet. Because we had less episodes, we had to focus quickly on what was really important: Dean’s deal with the demons and the fact that he had a ticking clock and that he was going to get dragged down to hell.

Ackles: Fortunately, for a show like ours, dying and going to hell does not necessarily mean the end… I don’t even know how many times I’ve died on the show, but I will say that it was shocking, like “oh my God, how is Dean going to get out of this predicament? How is Sam going to help Dean? How is this going to continue?” It was exciting. By this point I knew the kind of writer that Kripke was becoming and he was really settling into the position of taking these guys on a journey. And I was not only impressed immensely by it, but I respected it and I trusted him to take us down a road that was going to be good for the story, good for the show and good for these characters.

Ultimately, it wasn’t Sam who saved his brother from hell in season four, but an angel named Castiel (Misha Collins).

Kripke: If you had asked me in season one, were there going to be angels in Supernatural, I would have said “absolutely not, you’re fired.” Up to that point I always felt like I didn’t want any supernatural good guys in the show. If there was any force of good, it was going to be Sam and Dean, and they were going to be overwhelmed and outgunned. And as we were kicking towards the end of season three and we were doing lots of demon stories, I was worried that we were overplaying the demon stuff. But the idea that angels could be dicks and that they didn’t have to be this warm fuzzy helpful force, they could actually be a really interesting antagonist, once I kind of realized that, I said, “I’ve never seen that depiction of angels on television before.” It wasn’t just these two boys versus all these demons; it became Sam and Dean trapped in the middle of this massive war where you had two sides battling, and humanity, represented by the boys, were caught in the middle, so how do they play both sides against the other? It balanced the mythology in a way that I think made it much more satisfying.

Misha Collins (Castiel): It was as if I were going to get a job at the NSA, the level of secrecy that surrounded the new role of Castiel. They did not reveal to agents or actors who were auditioning for the role that the character was going to be an angel, and it wasn’t until I did my first take of the character that Eric Kripke said, “That was pretty good, but the truth is it’s an angel, not a demon, so can you just switch it up?” So all of the preparation that I had done for the character went out the window. I think I went blank. I didn’t even know what to do, and that’s what audiences are still seeing today as Castiel.

Kripke: I’m the first to acknowledge that the idea really came from graphic novels. It came from “Preacher”; it came from “Hellblazer,” which has now become “Constantine,” which is why Castiel wears a trench coat. There’s a reason why Castiel looks exactly like Constantine — it’s because I ripped off Constantine. But I had no idea it was going to be a show at the time! It was funny, as I went into the writers’ room at the start of season four, having thought about it I said, “okay guys, this season we’re doing angels.” And they were like, “What? You asshole!” Because there were so many angel stories that were pitched earlier and I would literally shame them out of the room whenever anyone pitched an angel story, and now I’m presenting it as an entire mythology. But it worked out.

Padalecki: I think season four was really the turning point for the show, and really set the new parameters for what the show is still about to this day, most notably with the introduction of Castiel.

Ackles: This was when “Lost” was on the air, “Heroes” was on the air, these giant mega hits. I remember Eric taking issue with “Lost” because they kept asking questions and never really giving answers. He was against that method of storytelling and said, “no, I’m going to ask the question and I’m going to answer it. And maybe the audience doesn’t like the answer, but I’m most certainly not going to string them along just until I come up with some sort of a solution.” That’s one of the reasons why, from season to season, the bar just kept getting raised and the supernatural world kept getting bigger, almost to the point where it was incomprehensible to the Winchesters. I think we really saw that when the introduction of angels came into play, and then it became something far greater than things that go bump in the night… It was a leap of faith. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do something like that, but I think it panned out. And now we have one of the most loved characters of the series still with us today.

Collins: I was supposed to be on for three episodes, and they said, “Oh, you might do five episodes,” so they added a couple more, and then they added three more after that… Then they signed me up as a series regular and they kept me on for two years, and then they said they were going to kill me and that we would never see me again in season 7. And then they changed their minds again… I was joining the show the beginning of Season 4. I kind of assumed that that was the tail end of the show. I think everybody really thought that the show was going to be over at the end of Season 5 at that point, which was Kripke’s original vision, so it’s very strange to still be here. We are obviously counting ourselves lucky that the show has run so long.

Season four also broke the fourth wall by introducing a prophet called Chuck (Rob Benedict), who was writing the Winchesters’ story as a series of pulp novels. That introduction opened the door to a slew of genre-busting meta episodes.

Kripke: The movie “Stranger than Fiction” had just come out. And so it started with a really innocent single episode pitch: what happens if Sam and Dean realize that they’re characters in a book; that they find a book that is detailing their entire lives? And then it would give us an opportunity to really poke fun at what we’re doing in “Supernatural,” and that was really fun for me. [Then] somebody said, “well what if he’s a prophet of the lord?” We jumped all over that idea and it really tied into this mythology. It was our first serious meta episode.

And once we introduced him, I thought it was so funny and smart, and you just want to start doing more of it. That’s how I think a lot of the insanity in “Supernatural” emerged. Because we couldn’t repeat ourselves with Chuck: if you’re going to see him again, it better be at a fan convention. Every single time, Bob would say to me, “this is the one where we’ve gone too far.” And then after one of them I responded, “don’t you see? We can never go too far, there is no too far.”

Rob Benedict (Chuck Shurley): At first I was just the prophet, and I had to go back to watch old episodes because I knew they were making references to things I wasn’t quite sure [about]. I knew he was kind of a joke in the writers’ room, but then as it went on, it became clear it was a little more than that, that I was more like Kripke himself. And by my final episode, I realized that I was Kripke, and that’s when he called me and was like “how does it feel, that you’re God?” and I was like, “Am I?! Really?”

The writers killed off Cohan’s Bela at the end of season three, and Cassidy was cut from the show for budgetary reasons, but the character of Ruby still had a part to play in the ongoing mythology, leading to the casting of a new actress for season four – Genevieve Cortese, who would go on to marry Padalecki after the two connected during filming.

Genevieve Padalecki (Ruby 2.0): I had just gone from working on this little show called “Wildfire” on ABC Family, and I had a producer on our show who had done an episode of “Supernatural” and talked about it, so I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t know much. So I walked into the room and I was like, “okay, she’s a waitress, great.” But she had two different names, one was the waitress and one was Ruby, and they didn’t really tell me who she was or that someone else had played the part. So I did a cold read and my take on it, and I thought, “gosh, it felt really good, but I’m sure I’ll never see them again.” And then they called and said “we think she’s great.” And then they were like, “oh, by the way, this was played by somebody else, can you kind of do it like her?” I was like, “What?!”

I had just arrived in Vancouver and I was given these DVDs. I don’t think it was necessarily “do it like she did it,” but more like, “this is for your reference.” I had done a little bit of prep work, but it actually screwed me up a little bit, because I didn’t do my take that way, and we’re very different in our styles and personalities. So I had a slight panic attack, and then a come-to-Jesus moment where I went, “I have to do my take on it, and I think it would be a more interesting choice if we brought the humanity to her.” We initially weren’t sure how large the role was — I think I only signed up for four episodes or so. I thought it would be so shocking if she seemed very human, and she had such a huge agenda ahead of her that I think it was more powerful to make sure that she had [the Winchesters] on her side. What Katie did was a beautiful job — I just think that they might have been on to her, had I made those sort of choices, and I think she needed to do a complete 180 and seem as if she’d been reformed in order to gain their trust.

In Season Five, the war between heaven and hell came to a head after Sam unwittingly unleashed Lucifer, kickstarting the apocalypse.

Kripke: The thing I remember most about that season was how exhausted I was going through it… I knew I wanted some sort of apocalyptic ending where evil Sam had to fight a good Dean. One of the things that was really hard about that season is, it’s one thing in season four when you’re promising the apocalypse: Is it going to happen, can the boys stop it? It’s a whole different matter when you’re saying in season five, “okay, the apocalypse is happening,” because you still are on a budget. There’s an incredible amount of off-camera, “oh no, there’s been an earthquake!” stuff on the news. It’s really difficult to mount something of that scope.

Padalecki: It was a really neat story, and Lucifer…I don’t want to say we humanized him, but we sort of humanized him. Lucifer, as a character, thinks he’s doing the right thing. And as an actor all my job is, is to figure out what the character thinks he feels and why they are doing what they are doing, and ultimately Lucifer thought he was making heaven and or hell a better place by trying to rid the world of humanity.

Ackles: To look at the five seasons, to step back and look at that all as one story… it was a massively grand finale and it was like Game Seven of the World Series, and I just don’t know how you can go on from that. I think Eric thought the same thing. He was like, “I’m throwing out my last pitch and I’m taking off into the sunset,” and that’s what he did, but it had become such a hit that the studio and the network were like, “no, guys, you have to keep going.”

Season five also introduced the character of Crowley (Mark Sheppard), the so-called “King of the Crossroads” who would go on to become a major antagonist (and occasional ally) for the Winchesters.

Mark Sheppard (Crowley): I’d worked with Kim Manners back in the early days of my television career and we became quite close. I would see him from time to time whenever I was in Vancouver and working on something else. He would always talk about how wonderful the show was and how wonderful the boys were and how much fun it was, like, “We’re definitely going to get this together and you’ve gotta come and do one.” I was working with his brother, Kelly, on “Dollhouse,” and Kim unfortunately got sick and by the time he passed, I had not done an episode of “Supernatural.” And Crowley came up and I just got the giggles and I went, “maybe this is an interesting indication of what I should be doing.” And with all fondness for Kim and of course for Ben Edlund’s writing – that was his episode and I’d worked with Ben in “Firefly” — it just felt absolutely right. And it turned out to be something that was just absolutely phenomenal. It was such a fun thing to do. The opening scene, kissing a man at the crossroads, was just such a brilliantly uncomfortable way to introduce a character, I thought.

Kripke had decided to leave the show in season five, handing the reins over to Sera Gamble, who would executive produce season six alongside Bob Singer.

Kripke: It was very bittersweet for me. I had come to really love all the people I had worked with on the show and so loved those characters… After having run 104 episodes of the show, I just didn’t know what the 105th episode should be anymore, and I always used to know. I felt like I was in danger of approaching burn out. And if that was the case then the show would suffer and it was more important that the show remain strong and vital. I knew Sera was up to the job.

Gamble: We thought season five would be the last season. But pretty early into [it], Eric came to me and said “signs are pointing toward a season six,” and he was ready to move on and asked me to step in. And he came to me really early because there was a tremendous amount of learning and training and coming behind the curtain to see what he and Bob were doing that had to happen.

There was part of me that was just, lovingly, super pissed at Eric. I was like, “do we have to do this after the apocalypse? We literally burned the story all the way to the apocalypse. We have to start over and find a whole new classification of villains, so what the hell are we going to do?” But we had several months to ponder that. We had a great writers’ room, and everybody put their heads together, and Eric, to his great credit, stayed with the show, and was very active in constructing season six, and was incredibly helpful to me, personally. He was instrumental in figuring out what we were going to do next. It was like a reboot.

Kripke: I read every script. And then once Sera was comfortable in the gig and the studio and network were comfortable, I backed off. And from then I would define my role as a parent who sends their kid off to college. I’m extremely proud. I’m there if they need me… And it was never me running the show alone. It was always me and Bob Singer, and Bob has always been there. So there’s been true continuity. People say “Supernatural” has had different showrunners and it hasn’t. It’s actually always had the same showrunner, he has just had different partners over the last decade.

Ackles: It’s a really interesting situation when you go that big with a story and it’s the big, final shoot-out of the movie and the grand finale and then all of a sudden, there’s a whole other two hours to the movie left. How do you come off that and keep the audience entertained and still find a unique story to tell of these guys, and keep them integrated into the mythology of the show? Those were two tough years, for not only the story and the characters, but I’m sure for the writers too, to pick up where it left off. I certainly wouldn’t want that job.

Padalecki: I had a meeting with [Sera] between season five and six like, “hey, I just want see where we’re going. I know it’s kind of daunting, Sam is in hell, he has Lucifer in a cage, so what’s your plan?” She goes, “well, Sam is going to be soulless. He’s going to come back, but he comes back soulless.” And at first, you could probably hear the crickets. Funny enough, years later, it’s probably my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten to do on “Supernatural.” But at the time I was like “holy s***, like what am I supposed to do? How the hell do you be soulless?” But it gave me something to think about, and I did for the rest of the summer.

Gamble: The good thing about “Supernatural” is some things always remain the same. It’s always a story of two brothers, always a story about that family. It is always a story about the people who fight the things that go bump in the night, and there is always a structure that has an overarching mythology that gets solved piece by piece over the course of a season. That engine is pretty solid. I think one of the first conversations was just, “so we did heaven and we did hell, and oh, there’s a purgatory.” It started from that simple examination: “What is the mythology that we’ve been mining, and what else is in there that we haven’t talked about yet?”

You’re on a show for years and years, and you watch the actors grow up. Sam did not look like little Sammy was just out of college anymore. He was a grown-ass man; Jensen was a grown-ass man. They were adults, and they were men who had been through a lot, so the stories have to evolve, become more mature. They have to be about the problems that people would have in their adult lives, and that’s really how we were approaching these things. We were looking for problems that were not repeats of the problems they were having when they were 17 or 22.

While Sam was undergoing another transformation, Dean experienced his own period of transition in season six. After Sam sacrificed himself to save the world in the season five finale, Dean made good on his promise to his brother and tried to live a normal life with an ex-girlfriend, Lisa (Cindy Sampson), and her son. But normalcy and the Winchesters don’t tend to mix…

Ackles: The whole domestication of Dean Winchester was a novel attempt at not just flipping the lid on this character, but taking him out of his element and seeing how he fares. It was an interesting journey, which obviously didn’t last very long because when you’re that immersed in the supernatural, it’s going to find you no matter how far you run away from it. So it did find him and he, of course, realized that this was destined to be a part of his life whether he chose it or not, and that anybody and everybody around him was going to be subject to it. So, he had to make the unfortunate decision to walk away and that wasn’t easy, as we saw.

Season six tried to expand Sam and Dean’s personal mythology by exploring their mother’s side of the family, the Campbells, but opinion varied on whether that storyline paid off.

Singer: I didn’t love [season six’s] storyline as much as I loved some others, to tell you the truth. I thought we got off the ground really well. It was a provocative opening. I think that change in Sam’s character were really interesting. But as the season went on, I thought the Campbell story wasn’t a season’s worth of work for me.

Sheppard: Season six has some of the greatest standalone episodes… some fabulous television. It feels like it’s a bit more longform, yet the standalones are so clever. Crowley really becomes Crowley, I think, in season six.

The sixth year did yield the most ambitious and unique meta episode to date, “The French Mistake,” which saw Sam and Dean transported to an alternate version of our world, where actors called Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles played them on a TV show called “Supernatural.”

Gamble: That’s just a perk of working with Ben Edlund. It’s so ridiculous, but so sublime, and it was Eric and Ben — they worked on it together — and it was just everyone having the most fun that they could possibly have. Early on in the exercise, we had to call Jared and Jensen and say, “look, we have this idea that’s a little out of the box. It might feel like we’re getting in your personal space a little bit. We like this idea, but we need to make sure that you think it’s funny and you’re on the same page and you’re game.” They got it, and they thought it was hilarious, and they played along, and we’re very grateful to them for being very cool about [it].

Padalecki: If I had to name a favorite episode of “Supernatural,” it would probably be [“The French Mistake”], and the reason that one sticks out as my favorite is because it simply was an episode of television that there’s no chance in hell another TV show would be able to get away with. I remember Jensen and I got pulled into the production office; they’re like “hey, Bob and Sera and everybody is on the phone, they have a question to ask you,” and we’re like “oh s***, what did we do?” At first, it was kind of panicky, and they mentioned they’d love to have Genevieve come in and play herself, and Jensen and I said, “as long as we never have to play Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, as long as we play Sam and Dean Winchester, we’re totally cool with it.” It was a really cool way to make fun of ourselves and make fun of actors and the industry and make fun of writers and producers and directors. I know the fans loved it, and I’ve talked to many fans who list that as their favorite or among their top three or five, so that was a really fun episode. It was fun to have Genevieve come back and play herself. So many people take themselves too seriously in this business, and that was a nice way to bring ourselves back down to earth.

Genevieve Padalecki: It was wild. I just love making fun of myself, I’m the first one to acknowledge when I’m silly, and I had a blast doing it. It was more funny to me that people thought that was our house — we’re so not that kind of family where we have pictures of ourselves. Honestly, I’m hoping I can have a chicken coop… I certainly wouldn’t mind an alpaca. For us, it was hilarious.

Kripke: Once we were able to pull off “The French Mistake,” and Sam and Dean were actually able to go and become Jared and Jensen making an episode of “Supernatural,” I think Bob saw that there’s no such thing as too far. If you can pull that off and not destroy your show, you can truly do anything.

The season also saw Castiel drifting further away from the Winchesters, as he was unwittingly manipulated by Crowley in his quest to try and prevent a war among the leaderless angels. By the end of the year, after absorbing thousands of monster souls from purgatory, Castiel became corrupted by his newfound power.

Collins: I loved it. If for no other reason than Cas became God at the end of season six, which has always been a fantasy of mine, personally. There’s a very elite cadre of actors that ever get to [do that]. I think it was a great way to make the character a big bad. I was sorry to see myself killed off shortly thereafter in the beginning of season seven, but glad to see myself resurrected a couple episodes later.

Season 7 explored a more political storyline than the show had delved into before, commenting on consumerism and capitalism through the Leviathans, monsters from Purgatory who wanted to rule the world. It was also the season that said farewell to Bobby Singer, who had been with the show since season one.

Singer: We came up with this Leviathan idea: How do a group of monsters who want to take over society go about doing that? And the logical answer for us was, they insert themselves into the fabric of society in powerful ways — that’s what happens with the pharmaceutical companies, it’s what happens with government. It just seemed like an easy place to go and really be able to say something on a week-to-week basis. [We were] changing up what we were to try to make it interesting, and we feel if it’s interesting to us, we hope that it’s interesting for other people… Doing a season that was kind of political with these different monsters that we hadn’t seen before, I thought was pretty bold, and by and large a good season.

Gamble: The price of success is that you have to really be hard on yourself to keep the stakes high in a show like that. How do you keep the stakes high after you’ve faced the demon that kills your mother, angels, the apocalypse? The way that we found our way into that is by keeping it really personal. If it’s about Bobby, it will mean something to the audience, because Bobby means so much to the boys.

Beaver: I’ll tell you about my reaction to Bobby’s impending death by telling you about my reaction to my character’s death in the third season of another series I worked on. When I was told that my character on that show (nameless, for those who haven’t watched it yet) was going to be killed off, I have to say that, outside of the terrible year of 2004 when I lost so many family members, I have never had such a powerful emotional blow. I was devastated to be forced out by dramatic requirements from the best job I had ever had. Well, when Bob and Sera called to tell me they were killing Bobby, it was not quite the same gut punch, because (a.) I’d already been dead once on “Supernatural” (if only for about a page), and (b.) because it is “Supernatural,” and the odds of me staying dead seemed slim. Nonetheless, I was very distraught, and Bob and Sera cushioned the blow somewhat by telling me that I would come back as a ghost and that, in Bob’s words, the death episode was so good that “if we weren’t on the CW, you’d win an Emmy!” So, though I was definitely unhappy with the shift, I figured there would be a substantial future as a ghost afterward. This was in August, I think, a couple of months before we actually shot the episode “Death’s Door,” in which Bobby meets his demise.

When we finally got around to filming it, I was taken aback when they gathered the whole cast and crew together and presented a special film tribute to Bobby and wished me well in the future. That was incredibly touching and I was deeply moved. But it was the first time I realized that they really were saying goodbye to Bobby as a major part of the show. That’s when it really sank in. I’ve been back for a handful of episodes as a ghost, and then one episode each season since in dream sequences or getting rescued from hell, but I am not any longer a substantial factor on the show, and I confess that, despite the magnificent opportunities for other work that have come my way, I really hate not being on that set, I really hate not working with that cast and crew, I really hate not being Bobby the way I once was. But I guess that’s part of being dead. There’s a great line in the play “A Bill of Divorcement.” The character played in the movie by John Barrymore says, “Do you know what the dead do in Heaven? They sit upon their golden chairs and pine for home.” I pine a bit for home. [But] “Death’s Door” is one of the great gifts given to me by this show… I thought it was magnificently written and directed, and if I can pull myself out of my own prejudices, I think it’s one of the best episodes of the entire series. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of being associated with in my entire career.

Ackles: Losing Bobby [in “Death’s Door” is] probably one of, if not my favorite episode of the series. Partially because I just wasn’t in it very much, because it was the story of Bobby and a lot of it took place in his mind. I wasn’t there for most of the filming because a lot of it was just Jim Beaver, so I was able to watch that episode as an audience member and I just remember how impactful and affecting that was.

That was a huge blow to both the Winchesters because this was a surrogate father figure who had become their anchor, had become their home, and now they once again lost that pivotal character in their story. And so, once again the rug gets whipped out from underneath them and all they’re left with is each other and they’ve got to keep on going. I think that was a really important season because of not just losing Bobby, but look what it did to the story and the direction that it then sent the boys off in.

Padalecki: I thought season 7 was going to be the last season of “Supernatural,” while we were filming it. We’d gone so big with the Leviathans and it was yet another departure from our normal canon. There were times I thought we strayed a little bit; our big bad of the season was Dick Roman [James Patrick Stewart] and there were times I thought there were one too many dick jokes, every now and then I felt like we were straying off-course, but the fans stuck with us and I think that season we introduced Kevin Tran [Osric Chau] who stayed with us for a while, so we said goodbye to a few characters, we met a few new characters.

Castiel continued his tumultuous trajectory that year — returning from apparent obliteration with amnesia, and then appearing to lose his grip on sanity after absorbing Sam’s lingering memories of hell into his own mind, before redeeming himself by helping the Winchesters kill Dick Roman.

Collins: I definitely did have a bit of whiplash throughout that process… The director on that episode when I became crazy was Ben Edlund, who also was the writer, so he had some good insight into the character, but he also didn’t really know what it would look like, and we were all over the map in discovering it in the first couple of scenes. It’s exciting. It’s very fast-paced when things are changing like that and you just have to just do it on the fly and hope that it works out. Sometimes it works better than others. It’s an interesting thing about shooting in network television, where there just isn’t time to spend three weeks in rehearsal on each episode. We really have to do stuff on the fly and so it forces you to learn how to make decisions quickly, and in my case, about fifteen percent of those decisions are good. I think that’s a pretty stellar success rate… I only flop a significant majority of the time.

In defeating the Leviathans, Dean and Castiel were transported to Purgatory, while Sam, left with no clue whether his brother was still alive, chose to try and live a normal life. Gamble left the show at the end of season seven, and passed the torch on to Jeremy Carver, a writer who had been with the show from seasons three through five before leaving to run Syfy’s “Being Human” with his wife, Anna Fricke.

Gamble: It was a huge chunk of my life, and a really huge chunk of my career. Seven years is a long time to be on one show, so it better be a special show. I always had the plan to stay for a couple of years, and on a personal level, to learn the ropes of that job… “Supernatural” has the legs to go forever. I was very excited when I heard that they were talking Jeremy Carver; I loved working with him for years, and I thought it was the most perfect choice. You just want to know that the show is in good hands. I think the show benefits from the influx of different kinds of creative energy.

Jeremy Carver (writer, executive producer): When I came in, it was a pretty open canvas. A lot of things had wrapped up. The biggest issue was that Dean had been popped down to Purgatory, and what do you do with that? But because there wasn’t an ongoing mythology we had to worry about, we could really let our minds roam and I came up with that main idea of [Dean] becoming best friends with a vampire and then saying, “What if Sam, for once in his life did something that ran contrary to what the world at large — and when I say the world at large, I mean the fans at large as well — thought he should do?” For me, that was a really thrilling tack to take, just because it felt like fresh snow. From a story standpoint, it felt like Sera left lots of opportunity.

And then [there] was this idea of, these guys have been together for so long, at a certain point… they need to – I hate to say “mature” because that sounds like they weren’t mature in the past, but… mature in the sense of really exploring what it is to be their own person. And that’s what was really behind Sam not looking for Dean at the beginning of season eight. It wasn’t so much me taking over as it was like, “let’s put these characters in situations that make sense but feel risky for them as characters.” One thing I really wanted to do was to put a different kind of spotlight on these guys.

Ackles: One of my most favorite storylines was Dean in Purgatory. If there was one storyline that I wish would’ve dragged out much longer, it would’ve been that one. I would’ve liked to have seen more of what Dean was up against in Purgatory and how he lived and how he existed in that realm and among those things down there and how he was able to survive. And he befriended Benny [Ty Olsson], who I thought was a great character… I was sad to see [him] go when he did.

We’ve lost so many good characters on the show, but that’s one of the reasons why the show is compelling to people, because we do take risks…if there’s a fan favorite character that now could easily be an integral part of the story, we bring them in and then we kill them and it’s shocking. If we can continue not just to entertain people, but to shock them and to make them feel the spectrum of emotion, from joy to loss, then I think we’re doing our job as storytellers. And I think season eight was a good representation of that.

Padalecki: Ultimately, “Supernatural” is really a show about two brothers and their relationship and their struggles and their loyalties and their sacrifices, and so I knew in my heart of hearts that even though season eight started out with Sam having gone off to try and live another normal life with the character of Amelia (Liane Balaban), I figured it was a way to remind both the audience and the cast and crew what the show was about. I thought season seven might’ve gone a little off the reservation, but in a strange way, by steering even further off the reservation and having the brothers not even be involved with each other [at the start of season eight], it really reaffirmed for everybody what the bread and butter of the show is, which, in my opinion is the relationship between the two brothers, so it was a nice rekindling and repartnership of Sam and Dean.

Season eight also expanded the mythology through the Men of Letters, a secret society of scholars who researched the supernatural. Sam and Dean learned that their paternal grandfather, Henry (Gil McKinney), was part of the order, unbeknownst to their father.

Padalecki: My favorite part of season eight was the introduction of the Men of Letters. I was so excited to play this smart character, and I really got a chance to delve into that in season eight. I remember with the introduction of the Men of Letters – like I said, in season seven I thought we were maybe coming to an end, and then I read the episode with the Men of Letters and Henry Winchester played by the wonderful Gil McKinney, and I thought, “holy crap, we can go for another eight years.” And it was nice to have a home again. We had burned Bobby Singer’s home down a season prior, and that was our only standing set on “Supernatural,” and so to have the Men of Letters bunker to refuel and research and gather our bearings as characters and actors was a really welcome addition to the show, and I feel like the Men of Letters storyline has really worked wonders for and breathed new life into the show these past couple seasons.

Through the research of the Men of Letters, the Winchesters discovered a means of curing demons and turning them human again — something they attempted with Crowley.

Sheppard: I’ve been gifted with some wonderful pieces in end episodes. The end of season eight is one of my most favorite times I’ve ever had on set. You have to remember that the outside of that church was built in the middle of nowhere. It’s a giant prop. It’s our art department, it’s our set building department; it’s a testament to them that they can build something that you believe has been sitting in this place for hundreds of years. And what production did to protect us was fantastic… we shot essentially in sequence, which is a rare thing to do. We shot the stuff with Abaddon [Alaina Huffman] at the beginning, through to the end scene in the finale. We shot that over three days. And there’s a crew in that room, and they’re being quiet for minutes at a time. They’ve got work to do between every time somebody says “cut” and “action.” They have every right to talk and to not have to be bogged down with the intensity of it all. They have a right to be human, they work really hard. And as we move towards that end sequence and the stuff with the HBO soliloquies and Sam sticking needles in my neck, that crew didn’t make a sound between takes. Gave us the floor. Gave us everything we needed… It was just wonderful. Jensen was off camera doing dialogue for six hours with the same intensity he was on camera. It’s just an incredible place to go to work. And I think it shows.

The season eight finale left Sam on the brink of death once more, leading Dean to make a deal with an angel, Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett), to save his brother’s life by letting him possess Sam’s body to heal him in the season nine premiere.

Carver: The notion of Sam being possessed by an angel was originally Bob Singer’s idea. He threw it out there between seasons and said, “what if to save Sam’s life you had to put an angel in him?” It came from the same cloth of, “what if Dean had to rely on a vampire to escape from Purgatory and they became bonded over that?” You have to make do with the friends that are in front of you. Then we started to just flush out the character of Gadreel, who was originally Ezekiel, and that was one of my favorite characters we’ve done over the last couple of years, just because he felt very fleshed out and very empathetic. And Tahmoh was just wonderful because he has this bearing that is manly and unfamiliar all at once. He really dug into that role. If I remember correctly, Jared actually performed as Tahmoh before Tahmoh had even said a word of dialogue. So there was a leap of faith there on the part of Jared, who did a really spectacular job of portraying two characters, and he really embraced it. I was very happy with the way the whole Ezekiel/Gadreel story worked out, and how it all reflected back on the boys and their relationships.

Padalecki: It was a really big challenge, [playing Sam possessed by Ezekiel/Gadreel]. That was another one of those where I read a couple of scripts and found out that I was going to be playing two or three characters again and I was like, “it’s season 9, I’m supposed to be able to phone it in!” But it probably stands out to me where soulless Sam from season six, demon blood Sam from season four and Ezekiel/Gadreel Sam from season nine have really been my most challenging and most rewarding — because they’re different sides of the same coin. Ezekiel was a chance to play the reluctant hero as well, because he thought he was doing the right thing and we came to find out a couple episodes into the season that he was repenting for a wrong he had committed at the dawn of time, and he was so wracked with guilt and regret that he would do anything to redeem himself and to earn his way back into acceptance. That was a really neat storyline to play, and something that was a fun parallel with Sam because Sam, from season one, always felt like his mother’s death was his fault and Jess’ death was his fault and his father’s death was his fault, and so Sam has been trying to right those wrongs for most of his adult life. So to see Gadreel, this sentient being, going through the same human emotions and those parallels between Sam and Dean, was just a joy to play, and the writers just nailed it. It was so fun to work hard with those scripts and I felt so lucky and so blessed to be able to do that 180 episodes into a television show, to be able to recreate myself and recreate my character. These last few seasons especially have just breathed new life into “Supernatural,” and here we are going strong.

Castiel finally became human in season nine — a trajectory that seemed to be a long time coming, after the angel’s powers began to dwindle in season eight.

Collins: That was something that I, as an actor, was looking forward to from the beginning — I kept on hoping that they were going to let Castiel become human for a while, and they finally did, and it was great. I think he had three or four episodes as a human; I wish we’d had a little longer in that realm, because I feel like there was a lot of good material to mine there, but the experience that he had being human made him much more empathetic towards humans, and I think that experience definitely left a lasting impression on him. He, I think, understands some of the subtleties of human interaction a little bit better. He is a little bit more savvy and definitely a lot more empathetic. But being more empathetic also makes him question himself more, have more doubts. He definitely is less cocksure as he moves through life, and he sees the gray areas and both sides of the story a little bit more than he used to.

Dean, meanwhile, became the unwitting recipient of the Mark of Cain, a brand that enables the wearer to wield the First Blade, a powerful weapon – but also saps away their humanity. Dean struggled to control his darker impulses as a result of the Mark, and after dying at the end of the season, found himself resurrected by the power of the Mark and reanimated as a demon, neatly paralleling Sam’s own descent into darkness in earlier seasons.

Carver: In this case, it was [writer and co-executive producer] Robbie Thompson coming up with the idea of Cain [Timothy Omundson]. And I remember him pitching this idea of the Mark of Cain. At the time he pitched it, I remember thinking, “I don’t know exactly where this is going to fit into the overall mythology, but it’s a wonderful thing to plant,” which we do all the time. One of the dirty little secrets of the show is that after we come up with something and it works out really well, we say, “hey, it’s almost like we planned it that way.” Sometimes things are just happy accidents. You try and draw out that roadmap, and then the writers are coming up with all these incredible, creative things. Cain just felt like such a no brainer, to the point where you’re wondering, “why haven’t we had this character in our world before?” We had referenced him before but hadn’t seen him.

But when [Robbie] talked about the Mark of Cain and putting it on Dean, it was something to plant like, “we’re definitely doing this and we’re going to figure out how to make this work as the season goes on,” which is exactly what happened. I’d like to say from the very beginning that we knew [Dean] was going to be a demon, but we didn’t. We had all these ideas of where Dean would go, but sometimes it’s peanut butter and chocolate and it takes a few episodes actually to realize the tools you have right in front of you.

Ackles: If you look back at the majority of series, it really hinges on Sam’s character. That’s the way it was originally intended, that’s the way it serves the story best, but every now and again the spotlight got flipped and turned on Dean, and I think we’re seeing this again with Mark of Cain. That was part of the setup for just very dark and troubled Dean.

Season nine was one of the more difficult seasons that I personally had to deal with, and it was because of not just the weight of the storyline, but because it was so Dean-centric. I was on set pretty much the whole time while everybody else was enjoying their vacation. It was just a lot of weight and a lot of darkness in my world last year, but we got through it and I think it made for some good story and I think it made for a good setup of where we’re going this year… I really enjoyed the twist at the end of last season when we think we lost Dean yet again and lo and behold, an unlikely character comes in and brings him back to life. So I have to give it to Carver on that one, when I read it I was shaking my head with very happy approval, because I knew that was now another massive situation that Sam and Dean are going to have to deal with. And how they [were] going to get out of it, I was anxious to see.

After Dean returned from death as a demon at the end of season nine, Crowley took his newly minted BFF to “howl at the moon,” but their bromance was shortlived – Sam saved his brother and restored Dean’s humanity in the third episode of season ten. So where do the brothers go from here?

Padalecki: Sam, with the help of Castiel, has saved Dean from being a demon and has made good on his promise at the end of season nine where he said he wasn’t gonna let him go, he wasn’t gonna let him die. But Dean is still cursed or possibly forever changed by this Mark of Cain. Sam and Dean don’t really know the repercussions of that just yet; they can’t find Cain; Castiel can’t find any answers; and Crowley’s not helping. We know that the Mark is changing him somehow, Dean doesn’t want it and Sam doesn’t want him to have it, so now they have to go as far as only the Winchesters will go to figure out how to get this Mark of Cain off of Dean before he turns into something that could cause more damage than Sam or Dean have ever seen.

Carver: Dean’s not a demon, but he still has this problem; he’s still got the Mark of Cain. And in the broadest strokes possible, it’s a very, very personal year where our overarching mythology for the season is building in a very methodical, very personal manner. I think a lot of relationships…I’ll even go as far to say a lot of bromances that have sprung up on the show, are going to be tested in ways that I think are going to be very uncomfortable. Each of our characters is going to have to stare into the abyss at some point and say, “who am I?” It’s going to be pretty personal, pretty intense, and pretty surprising as we move down the road.

Thankfully, the 200th episode (airing Nov. 11), is a light-hearted departure: it’s a musical, featuring a score composed by Christopher Lennertz and Jay Gruska, with lyrics by Robbie Thompson, who wrote the episode.

Carver: It’s our love letter to the fans. Many aspects of the fandom are going to see themselves represented in many different ways and in the most loving way possible. It’s an episode that takes a long, loving look at the show, warts and all. And we’re the first to admit our mistakes or our inconsistencies, and I think long-time fans will have a lot of fun seeing where we acknowledge this one big, happy, messy family that we’re all part of.

Check out an exclusive preview of the 200th episode here.

“Supernatural” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.